Earlier this week, the government announced that as of the end of March, 83.8% of Japanese households had installed televisions or tuners for receiving terrestrial digital broadcasting signals. By April 2011, three months before the switchover to digital, the government aims to achieve 100% diffusion of digital reception capability, upon which Japan will pull the plug on analog broadcasts for good.
But Shukan Taishu (June 7) reports the claim may be exaggerated.
"The Ministry of Internal Affairs' vice minister, Masamitsu Naito, had been boasting that installation of digital sets is over 70%," an unnamed broadcast journalist is quoted as saying, citing earlier data. "But that's total BS. Actually households with two sets are tallied as two families, and those with three sets treated as three families. The actual diffusion rate is only around 50%."
Consumer foot-dragging on digital is reportedly particularly severe in mountainous or other geographically isolated areas with poor reception.
Yukio Ueki, a wage earner residing in Kanagawa Prefecture, lives in an area easily susceptible to interference.
"Over 30 years ago, equipment was installed so that everyone in the neighborhood shares one antenna," Ueki tells the magazine.
Then in preparation for the digital switchover, the local government in April 2009 unilaterally decided to set up digital-ready cable connections for all the homes in the area. When they met resistance, they tried to coerce the residents by notifying them of plans to disconnect the analog antenna.
"Their pretext was that the equipment was on its last legs," fumes Ueki. "But it was still usable."
According to Ueki, out of 60 million yen in installation costs, the cable company was paid about 25 million yen from public funds, with residents expected to make up the remainder.
Instead, the residents petitioned the Yokohama District Court for injunctive relief and the analog equipment remains in place -- at least for now.
"The first judge seemed favorably inclined toward the plaintiffs," says Kazumi Yoshii, a cartoonist who attended the hearings to draw sketches. "But from May 10, a different judge took over, and it was evident that the court's stance became more noncommittal. You couldn't help but suspect that someone in the background was pulling strings."
That "someone," Shukan Taishu suggests, might be the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications, which is starting to become alarmed over the low installation rate of digital-ready TVs -- said to be only 26% as of March 2010 -- in difficult-reception areas
A news reporter covering the ministry agrees that the ministry worries a victory for Ueki's group would set back efforts to nudge communities into installing digital-ready equipment.
Some even debunk the claim that analog broadcasts must be terminated because of lack of available frequencies.
"The MCA band frequency, used mainly for citizens' band communications by trucks and taxis, only has several tens of thousands of users nationwide," the aforementioned broadcast journalist tells the magazine. "It boasts the same bandwidth as the one now being used by tens of millions of cell phone users."
The solution would be to dump the MCA channel. But thanks to the infamous "amakudari" system, former officials at the Ministry of Internal Affairs who have landed post-retirement positions at MCA-related organizations won't give up their cozy jobs without a fight.
"They're concerned that delays in the total switchover to digital, or extension of analog broadcasting, might cut into their vested interests," the journalist confides.
Makoto Odagiri, a writer who is familiar with communications issues, warns that as July 2011 approaches, the government may increasingly adopt strong-arm tactics in areas with low diffusion.
"I can't imagine people rioting in the streets, but I suppose some sorts of problems are going to crop up," he predicts.© Japan Today